The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Saturday ranked 25th in the NBA in points allowed per game and 28th in defensive rating, ahead of only the lowly Suns and Kings. For a team theoretically built to contend for a title this year, their utter inability to stop anyone poses a pretty massive problem.
In the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cavs gave up 43 points in the first quarter, as Russell Westbrook tore through their defense, Steven Adams collected offensive rebounds and Paul George buried open 3-pointers. Things went somewhat better in the second quarter when OKC’s bench players took the floor, but as soon as Westbrook and company returned, the Cavs again became a sieve. The Thunder, who rank only 12th in offensive rating on the season, lead 76-60 at halftime.
Here’s a helpful compilation of OKC scoring on Cleveland at will. Witness the Cavs’ failure to guard Adams on a pick and roll, their inability to even slow Westbrook on the break, their ambivalence about boxing out Adams on multiple put-backs and on and on. It seems as if every Cleveland player is a step slow on every single play.
— NBA (@NBA) January 20, 2018
Maybe we can forgive the Cavs a bit for some of those mishaps, given that they are facing some talented players on the other side. But we can’t forgive them for, say, thoroughly botching this Raymond Felton-Patrick Paterson pick and roll.
How not to switch a screen, by Tristan Thompson & Dwyane Wade. pic.twitter.com/YQke3yC4Oq
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) January 20, 2018
Some of these issues can likely be blamed on the half-hearted effort of a team that knows it will be playing in May. But when you have the third worst defense in the NBA, your problems probably go deeper than that. Poor coaching, poor communication and poor personnel have created a crisis for the Eastern Conference powerhouse.
Maybe the Cavs could fortify one or two rotation spots at the trade deadline, but as long as Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Derrick Rose and Kyle Korver are playing big minutes, there’s only so much they can do. This is a bad defense that figures to be bad all the way through the postseason.